Somewhere back in the colonial days a Scot by the name of William Cameron wandered off into the boonies of central Malaysia and discovered the highlands and valleys that still bear his name. Others followed, and finding the soil and climate suitable, introduced tea plantations using cuttings and expertise from Sri Lanka and India. A commercial enterprise and a desirable resort location ensued. We took the opportunity yesterday to make another trip.

We took along a couple of friends to split the cost of the car rental and to get them out of the city to a place they hadn’t seen yet. I have mentioned in these posts before how much I enjoy driving, so you know I was looking forward to getting out myself. My Dad learned to drive from Raymond Mays ( ), the leading British driver of his day, and remained an extraordinarily competent driver to the end. I don’t claim to be anywhere near as good as Dad was, but I’m no slouch either, and the Highlands are as good a workout as you can get locally.

Getting out of KL is always a bit of a trick, but through dogged determination to avoid the congestion, we have found the Guthrie Corridor, a little known and underused expressway that takes you 40 kilometres north of the city before joining the E1 that goes to Ipoh and Penang. The E1 itself is wide and pleasant with plenty of rest stops along the way, but Highway 59 that winds its way to Cameron Highlands is 60 kilometres of switchbacks along narrow tarmac with no shoulder and a sheer drop on the downhill side.

The worst problem though is the trucks that lumber up the road and the scaredy cats that dog their heels all the way up. The trucks are not that big a problem; leapfrogging six cars to then get by the truck is more so. The trick is to get an early start so there is not much traffic coming downhill. You also need to take advantage of the dogleg-left-then-right switchbacks that allow you to see the maximum distance up the road. There are no straight stretches, so this is the best place to pass. The worse possible place to remain is behind another vehicle, because then you are placing your safety in the hands of that driver’s competence, and that vehicle’s brakes! The whole exercise requires maximum focus, and I guess that is why I like it. I don’t enjoy video games; they are much too boring and repetitive. Give me a challenging drive any day.

Although my Dad was my instructor, I learned most of my competence driving cab for two years in Toronto. It was that experience that taught me that the safest and least frustrating thing to do was not to drive with the traffic, but to drive just slightly faster. This enabled you to weave in and out of the traffic much like paddling a canoe though the rapids. If your boat is going the same speed as the water around you, you cannot steer; you have to be going a little faster than water to direct the boat. The same is true for traffic. You don’t want to race through traffic; that is dangerous and stupid. But you do want to be able to steer safely through it. I could tell you all about mirror placement too, but then I would be getting tedious, wouldn’t I!

We had a very pleasant day, including tea, shopping and a fabulous lunch and then drove home in a torrential downpour with about ten feet of visibility. I had already chosen a safer route out of the Highlands knowing that I did not want to be on the downhill side of Highway 59 going home. Highway 181 is a new road to the north of the Highlands with paved shoulders, but even still it was a 1500 meter drop in the space of 40 kilometres, so there was a lot of driving to do. Once we got to the E1 things weren’t much easier. Within a short space of time we encountered an impasse: a bus had skidded in the downpour and done a 180 into one of the huge ditches that line the roads over here. The passengers were huddled in the pouring rain and although it didn’t look there were any injuries, there was a bit of tricky driving to get around the emergency vehicles and negotiate the Malaysian drivers who seem to be at a bit of a loss when the unexpected happens around them.

We found the link back to the Guthrie without any trouble and the exit off the Federal Highway to our own neighbourhood, despite the total lack of signage. I was fortunate to catch a vehicle coming out of the very rare parking spots around Taj Curry House where we intended to get a bite of supper, and pulled into the narrow spot with one swing, no mean feat with all the cars doubled parked, and edged within an inch of the curb. My passengers thanked me for a safe trip through tricky terrain and were effusive in their praise of my driving. Pam’s comment after thirteen hours of driving? “Not parked too square in that spot, are you!” Ah well, no man is a hero to his wife.